Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on May 8, 2019
When a Con Edison employee arrived to read the gas meter at one of the 15 buildings of the Penn South co-op, he detected a gas leak. He immediately called a Con Edison supervisor, who came to the building and informed the building’s director of operations that the gas had to be shut off immediately. The director of operations called his boss, property manager Brendan Keany, who hurried to the scene.
“I told the Con Edison supervisor, ‘No, you will not shut down the gas! We have seniors in this building and you will have to find a way to bottle this building!’” Keany recalls. “Even though the Con Edison supervisor was quite adamant that there had to be an immediate shutoff, I was insistent. I knew that bottling could save us.”
Bottling is a Con Edison service that can avert a building-wide gas shutdown under certain conditions. The gas leak has to be between two shutoff valves in order for workers to bypass the leak while making repairs. Shutoff valves are usually found on the basement level.
“To maintain the pressure in the building and to also keep the pilots lit, Con Edison brings big bottles of methane gas on a truck,” explains master plumber Len Williams of McCready & Rice Plumbing. “They then bring gas hoses into the building and make a temporary connection to feed the bottled gas into the building. However, this is possible only if the leak can be isolated and the repair can be made in a few hours.”
The service costs about $5,000, according to Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee. That’s a bargain since the service averts a total shutdown, known as red-tagging, and the pressure testing of lines that must follow – work that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and immeasurable inconvenience to residents. That’s the good news.
The bad news, according to Williams, is that Con Edison is not always cooperative. “The odds are 50-50 that you’ll get bottled gas,” he says. “If we detect a gas leak, I can’t just log on to the Con Edison website and request bottling service. We have to call an emergency number, and everything depends on who answers the phone. Even supervisors might not know about the bottling service, telling me it doesn’t exist. Even though we could have [fixed the leak] with bottling, the gas was shut off. I had that happen several times.”
Penn South’s Keany did not take no for an answer. He immediately got in touch with the local city councilman and state senator, and after a relatively short standoff, the Con Edison supervisor on the scene got a call from one of her supervisors that a bottling truck would indeed arrive at any moment. “We then put out an emergency notice to all residents in the building to not use gas,” says Keany. “The plumber was already on the property, and as soon as the bottled gas was hooked up, the repairs started and were done the same day.”
When asked about the lack of knowledge of some employees, Con Edison’s McGee replied: “If it’s an emergency situation, the dispatched Con Edison gas mechanic or supervisor will make the decision of whether or not they can safely leave the gas service on while making a temporary repair, or if they must ultimately shut it off due to safety concerns. If a temporary repair can be applied, the mechanic or supervisor will discuss the bottling option with the super, building management, or the plumber on site.”
Says Williams, “The repair with bottled gas spares the building a lot of agony and money. The problem is getting bottling from Con Edison.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – PROPERTY MANAGER: Brendan Keany. PLUMBER: Len Williams of McCready & Rice Plumbing.
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